Saturday, April 8, 2017

Blackstar 1: My Dinner with Kanye

The end of the decade (and the planet) is looming, so what can be more important than making sure my “Best Albums of the Decade” (assuming we make it that far) list is respectable?  And how can I do that if I continue to avoid what a lot of people think is the decade’s best music?

I became a little gunshy regarding hip-hop. Being a melody and electric guitar guy, I could only seem to enjoy it up to a point. And I want to love music, not merely like or admire it.

But there are just too many artists I’ve bypassed for that reason - Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Kanye West, the Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Danny Brown. And as a self-respecting music fan, I must do my due diligence.

And Kanye scores!


Kanye West: My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy (2010)

We all have a Kanye story.

We all have (at least) one occasion when - like President Obama - we deemed Kanye a jackass.

It’s like when they ask you "Where were you when Kennedy was killed?", or for the younger folk, when 9/11 happened. Now it’s "Where were you when Kanye said I’ma let you finish…?"

My last one was when he posed for pictures with Trump. Kanye, you may have thought that he was a fellow misunderstood genius, but he's not, and you mean nothing to him. You were used. I didn’t think you were that dumb.

Another one was when he married a for-profit attention whore whose name I refuse to further sully the internet with.

And then there was the time he trashed the Grammys for awarding Best Album to Beck (Morning Phase was my favorite that year) instead of Beyonce (or was it him? I don’t really care.)

Digression 1: My Purge of the Grammys

Now I’m always amazed when the Grammys like an album I like. (The time before that was The Suburbs by Arcade Fire) This is due as much to sheer demographics as taste. Now, I’m just too old to matter to the music industry. I was always too weird.

Throughout the sixties and seventies, I remember watching the Grammy's with frustration and ultimately disdain as they gave awards to unworthy musicians. (“Mrs. Robinson” over “Hey Jude” for Best Record? Please.) Sound familiar?

Digression 2: My Barbecue with Sara

A few years ago, we had the in-laws over for a barbecue. I was in the backyard cooking and listening to The Who Sell Out, (my all time favorite record) when my niece Sara - then a teenager - came out back.

Now, I should mention that I used to believe in the principle of Great Music Will Be Loved By Everyone Who Hears It.

Anyway, Sara says “Uncle John, what’s with the corny music?”

Another illusion shattered.

But I reassembled it somewhat, and it now reads Great Music Has the Potential To Be Recognized By Anyone Who Hears It. And I still believe this. Otherwise, I wouldn’t buy the records I do.

But I should have realized she'd react that way. Hell, I don't even think I liked the album the first time I heard it. Why should she?

But even given the chance, I still think she'd conclude it was corny because she just doesn't care as much about melody and electric guitars.

And although I haven't heard it, I suspect Beyonce's album is more to her liking and that she'd think Beck was corny, too. So, why shouldn’t Kanye? (Remember Kanye? It’s a post about Kanye.)

Dinner Time:

Which is why I can't get too annoyed with him. He cares, he's passionate. For all I know, he’s secretly in love with Beyonce. He sure loves himself. And now, after all these years, I can see how healthy that must be.

And judging from this record, he makes pretty great music too.

Up until now, I wasn’t sure. I liked his first record, but not the 12-minute monolog at the end about how he got a record deal.

This time out, he adds a hard rock texture - guitars (!) and melody (!!) - to a lot of the songs.

Every song has a great vocal, hook, texture or lyric to offer, and there are no dead spots at all. My only complaint is that he mars the otherwise stellar “The Blame Game” with a gross Chris Rock monolog.  But even that’s funny.

And while I still don’t quite love it, I’m really happy I got it. Kanye may have saved hip-hop - and my principle - for me.

So, to this impossible, egotistical, narcissistic self-proclaimed genius, I say, Damn!


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